Vail area first responders recognized for dedication, heroics |

Vail area first responders recognized for dedication, heroics

Responding to a call of a minor threatening to attempt suicide, Deputy Jordan Harrison of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office stepped over a guardrail and onto a tube along the edge of a small bridge over Gore Creek on July 30, 2020.

Harrison slowly approached the 15-year-old, who the Sheriff’s Office refers to as “M,” while attempting to start a conversation, before taking action “at great risk to his own life” by “reaching over the guard rail in order to grab M by the back of the sweatshirt and pull M back to safety,” according to a report on the incident.

Deputy Jordan Harrison

Harrison received the medal of valor at the annual Eagle County Public Safety Awards Celebration on Sunday for his actions in attempting to save the life of the child.

The awards celebration went live on Sunday in a video event called “A Night of Heroes;” the medal of valor was the highest recognition on the evening.

Starting Hearts, an Eagle County-based nonprofit dedicated to saving the lives of sudden cardiac arrest victims, co-hosted the video event with the local Rotary organizations of Eagle County.

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The event was a continuation of the Eagle County Rotary Clubs’ annual event to recognize public safety heroes; this year it was a video event with the assistance of Starting Hearts, who received grants from the town of Vail and Vail Resorts Epic Promise to help with the effort.

A Rotary committee, headed by Dwight Henninger from the Vail Police Department, decided on the winners.

‘Some of the best around’

Leadership awards were given to public safety leaders who advocate for and accomplish significant advances in policies and programs that benefit the safety of the people of Eagle County.

Eagle County Director of Emergency Management Birch Barron received a leadership award for his ability to implement meaningful changes while navigating challenges with grace and exceptional leadership in systems infrastructure, while establishing relationships and building trust with local, regional and state first responder stakeholders.

Fire Chief Doug Cupp of the Greater Eagle Fire District also received a leadership award for his ability identify avenues for improvement in our community and implement solutions that are both backed by the community and organizational methodologies.

Cupp said he couldn’t have done it without such strong leaders elsewhere in the community.

“2020 has been definitely a challenging year, and it just stresses how our partnerships are so important to us,” Cupp said. “And showing that Eagle County and all the agencies in public safety truly have strong leadership throughout their ranks, and it has been a pleasure working by their sides in such challenging moments, and we know we’ll have further success each year because of those great relationships, friendships and partnerships.”

Distinguished service awards were awarded to public safety professionals in recognition of outstanding and distinguished service to the people of Eagle County.

Undersheriff Mike McWilliam received a distinguished service award for helping to found the Eagle County Special Operations Unit, and his volunteer hours in the Lake Christine Fire and Grizzly Creek Fire, which were just a very small part of his career of service.

McWilliam said it was an honor to work for both the Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Forest Service before that.

“I love Eagle County, this is a great place,” McWilliam said.

Dr. Jack Eck received a distinguished service award for his 49 years of service as a doctor at Vail Health and a medical advisor to the Vail and Beaver Creek ski patrol.

“I love the people here, I love being here and a community like this doesn’t exist anywhere else,” Eck said. “Being with your friends, colleagues, workers, those that are well, those that are sick, is really a neat and special thing about life, and I’m glad to be a part of this.”

Pete Brandes of Eagle County Paramedic Services received a distinguished service award for his 35 years of emergency medical service work in Eagle County, where he helped found the Eagle County Ambulance Association in the 70s before becoming chief operating officer for Eagle County Paramedic Services.

Brandes thanked his fellow emergency responders and citizens of Eagle County.

“Rest assured, you have some of the best emergency service professional around,” he said.

Erin Ivie of the Eagle Police Department and Speak Up, Reach Out was given a first responders outreach award for her commitment to finding financial support to provide resources for, and to bring awareness to, behavioral and mental health in our communities.

“Through her efforts, Erin applied for and succeeded in obtaining the department of local affairs peace officer mental health grant, which has since, in addition to further funding opportunities, put hundreds of thousands of dollars towards peer support opportunities and much needed mental health resources,” said local radio personality Tony Mauro. “Working with seemingly tireless energy, Erin has utilized her knowledge and vision to enhance Eagle Valley’s mental health services.”

Difficult tasks

Heath Mosness, lead patrol deputy for the town of Gypsum, was given a first responder of the year award for ensuring safe, professional and friendly law enforcement was administered in Gypsum through his tremendous dedication to the community.

“These qualities were apparent through his service throughout the Grizzly Creek Fire,” Mauro said. “Throughout the incident, Heath’s long hours were dedicated to public safety and cooperation, keeping communication open between emergency operations entities and town leadership, preparing planning for evacuation and fallbacks, and advocating for the town through connecting the incident management lesion to local machinery resources. Deputy Heath Mosness’s actions were critical to helping the town of Gypsum to be much better prepared in the event of another emergency.”

Mosness thanked Starting Hearts and the Rotary Club for supporting first responders in Eagle County.

“The Grizzly Creek Fire was a very stressful couple of weeks for me, being the incident commander for Eagle County,” he said. “I thank the sheriff and the undersheriff for their support during those two weeks.”

Division Chief Tim Lavin of Greater Eagle Fire District also received a first responder of the year award for his leadership as incident commander or operations section chief during five large-scale incidents including the Eby Creek, Grizzly Creek and Alakali wildfires, the Gypsum home explosion, and an incident involving three simultaneous structure fires on Colorado River Road.

Lavin said he had his fellow first responders to thank for the award.

“Without them, without their hard work, their dedication to being trained right, their discipline, and really helping me out in getting through all of those incidents.”

Lavin, in submitting his remarks via video, also acknowledged the difficult task that was before editors and producers in creating the Night of Heroes video.

“I hope you guys all enjoy this video as it’s very tough to make a video, especially in this nature,” Lavin said.

Alan Himelfarb with Starting Hearts said the organization had been working on the effort for about a year, before spending the last two months totally focused on a video effort. The video contains 79 different segments.

“The majority of the content we created ourselves with supporting material from the public information officers of the different agencies,” Himelfarb said. “Two dozen people were involved in bringing together the different segments.”

Himelfarb said some segments were shot as late as Oct. 20.

“We were editing right up to the final 24 hours,” he said. “It was definitely a team effort.”

The event site at will remain live for a week, and a Night of Heroes will also be able to be viewed on YouTube, Himelfarb said.

“Anyone who would like to watch it at their leisure will be welcome to do so,” Himelfarb said.

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